The Cleveland Guardians’ 2021 High-A affiliate Lake County Captains roster was flush with exciting prospects, featuring impressive pitching prospect depth to go with a high-upside group of hitters. It’s easy to get excited about pitchers in the Guardians’ system given their recent history of developmental successes, but it’s been a while since they’ve had any hitting prospects make a major league impact. That could change with some of the hitters listed here, who will hope to join their pitching counterparts one day as part of the next wave of talent in Cleveland.
Players are presented in alphabetical order.
Note: My personal preference is to use Baseball Prospectus’ DRC+ and DRA- statistics to evaluate overall hitter and pitcher performances, respectively. They have been demonstrated to be more reliable and have more predictive usefulness than other catch-all statistics and are easy to use. Example: 105 DRC+ is 5% better than the league average hitter at generating runs; 105 DRA- is 5% worse than the league average pitcher at preventing runs.
Names to Know
Logan Allen, LHP
- Age in 2021: 22
- DRA-: 80 (51.1 IP)
Logan Allen was among the best starting pitchers in the High-A Central in 2021. He posted a glistening 79 DRA- backed up by a 27% K-BB rate and a 15.8% swinging strike rate, and then basically did the same thing at Double-A for the second half of his season. It’s not hard to picture Allen as another Guardians pitching development success story. DRA- was less enthusiastic about his Double-A performance (95 DRA-), but given the consistency he showed across both levels, I’m more confident he can keep producing against more advanced hitters.
Tanner Burns, RHP
- Age in 2021: 22
- DRA-: 88 (75.2 IP)
Burns is known for his command, stuff, and workhorse role from college, though the Guardians were very conservative with his workload in 2021, and he did miss some time due to an elbow injury. The stats here are more respectable than outstanding, but he pitched to an impressive 88 DRA-. He’ll be 23 on opening day 2022, so hopefully, he can show that he can handle a larger workload against more advanced competition. Look for him to start the 2022 season in Double-A.
Daniel Espino, RHP
- Age in 2021: 20
- DRA-: 58 (49 IP)
If you want to see strikeouts, just watch a Daniel Espino start. Espino’s four-pitch mix is headlined by a power triple-digit fastball which he pairs well with a wipeout slider. While his home run rate increased from Low-A to High-A, he also managed to cut his walks, good for a staggering 36.9% K-BB rate supported by an equally ridiculous 21.8% swinging strike rate. Young pitchers with the kind of strikeout ability that Espino has are rare, especially ones that make control gains like Espino did. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him at Double-A to start 2022, where he’ll continue to make his case as a future front-line starter.
Final line for Daniel Espino tonight
5IP, H, 0R, 3BB, 10K
All 3 walks were the first 3 batters of the game he faced. pic.twitter.com/iGmvCwBMXt
— Guardians Baseball Insider (@Official_CGBI) August 22, 2021
Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/3B
- Age in 2021: 19
- DRC+: 124 (111 PA)
Noel has some of the biggest raw power out of any prospect currently in the minors. He spent most of the 2021 season clobbering Low-A pitchers before earning a promotion to High-A. His plate discipline changed dramatically upon the promotion, including a big jump in K% and corresponding dip in contact rate. Given his age and the real positive signs he showed in Low-A, I have reason to suspect he is capable of improving these numbers. He still regularly stung the ball, maintaining a .550 OPS and a 26.7% HR/FB% nearly identical to his 26.2% rate in Low-A (though it should be noted that both Low-A Lynchburg and High-A Lake County are above average home run environments). He might start 2022 back in High-A, but if he can regain some plate discipline, he’ll be in Double-A in no time.
Jhonkensy Noel leaves the yard twice.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 3, 2021
Brayan Rocchio, SS
- Age in 2021: 20
- DRC+: 108 (288 PA)
Before 2021, the last regular season performance we’d seen from Rocchio was in the now-defunct short-season Low-A league, where he hit a lackluster .250/.310/.373. Rocchio’s High-A performance admittedly was a little underwhelming, but his excellent performance at Double-A as a 20-year-old seems to suggest he just needed to warm up a bit. Rocchio’s carrying offensive tool is his hitting ability, but there’s also a fair amount of power here too (.505 SLG in Double-A). He’s got some speed, though his 68% stolen base success rate in 2021 raises questions as to how effective he really is on the basepaths. Rocchio plays fantastic defense at shortstop and projects to stick up the middle. His defense should provide him plenty of runway in the majors. He’ll most likely see Triple-A to start the year and could very well earn a big league debut at some point.
George Valera, OF
- Age in 2021: 20
- DRC+: 157 (263 PA)
Valera’s always been known as a bit of a bat-first prospect, combining huge raw power projection with playable feel to hit. During his minor league career, he’s also shown good on-base ability, which he continued in 2021 as well. His robust 21% walk rate in High-A supported a .430 OBP which he complimented with a .548 SLG, both elite. However, his contact issues seemed to take over at Double-A, as he frankly looked overmatched in a 100 PA sample (93 DRC+). His walk rate fell by roughly 10% while his strikeout rate increased to 30%, along with a subsequent decline in power. I’m fairly confident he’ll improve with more reps at Double-A, but it will take some adjustments to his plate approach. Age is most definitely on his side, but there’s work to do to unlock his considerable upside.
- Xzavion Curry, RHP: Control artist rose from Low-A to 4.2 inning start at Double-A. Age makes projecting K% to continue at upper levels a bit iffy.
- Hunter Gaddis, RHP: Attacks zone with FB-CH heavy approach, racking up whiffs and limiting walks in the process. Violent delivery clouds starter outlook, on the older side too. Move to bullpen might keep him in business at upper levels.
- Bryan Lavastida, C: Catcher with good hit/moderate power ability, but on-base skills took a step back at Double-A. SB totals appear to be mirage given low success rate.
- Jose Tena, SS: Arrow up following loud AFL performance, solid High-A stint, but precarious plate discipline is cause for concern. Needs to really hit given lack of walks, high strikeouts.